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Summertime always brings a ton of fun—outdoor adventures, baseball games (if you’re into that kind of thing), swimming, grilling, and more. What’s not so fun is the season’s increased potential for skin irritations. Between bug bites, sweat-induced eczema flare-ups, and surprise encounters with poison ivy while weeding, it’s crucial to have the best anti-itch cream on hand that actually works—and fast. Because everyone knows there’s nothing’s worse than an itch you can’t scratch or soothe.
Anti-itch creams can also be used on psoriasis, seborrheic dermatitis, sun burns, allergic reactions, and more, explains Anar Mikailov, M.D., F.A.A.D., founder of Skintensive. And although you may immediately think of hydrocortisone cream when the topic arises, it’s not the only option. “Anti-itch creams often contain an ingredient called pramoxine hydrochloride that acts as a topical anesthetic, minimizing the sensation of itching or pain,” explains Rebecca Marcus, M.D., board-certified dermatologist and founder of Maei MD. “Topical steroids such as hydrocortisone decrease itch by decreasing inflammation.” She adds that menthol can also help by stimulating sensations of warmth and cooling, “which detracts from the itch sensation.” Even coconut oil, Dr. Mikailov says, has anti-itch properties because it’s moisturizing, and dryness can cause your skin to crawl.
We asked Dr. Mikailov and Dr. Marcus for their go-to anti-itch cream recommendations. We also researched producs individually and explored hundreds of customer reviews to include some of the market’s best-sellers.
Without further ado, soothe your worries and any sudden itches by stocking up on one of these ointments or lotions.
Both Dr. Mikailov and Dr. Marcus recommend this tried-and-true pick. CeraVe is always a go-to brand for derms, and this cream is no exception. “It contains pramoxine hydrochloride, which works within a few minutes to soothe itching,” explains Marcus. “It also contains ceramides to help reinforce the skin barrier and maintain the skin’s first line of defense.” Plus, it earns a seal of approval from the National Eczema Association, and is marketed for use on everything from sunburn to bug bites.
Dr. Marcus recommends this one because it’s a decent strength topical steroid for over the counter that reduces inflammation caused by sunburn and other skin irritations like poison ivy or bug bites. However, Dr. Mikailov adds that it’s important to use a steroid cream for no longer than two weeks consistently to avoid withdrawal or resistance, which can worsen irritation.
“Eucerin Eczema Relief contains colloidal oatmeal to calm inflamed skin, as well as ceramides-3 and licochalone to soothe dry, itchy skin,” explains Dr. Marcus. An eight ounce tube is under $10, and in a clinical study, daily use of it saw four out of five children remain eczema flare-free for six months.
This ointment, recommended by Dr. Mikailov, contains aluminum acetate, which acts as an astringent to relieve itch. It’s an easily applied gel that is marketed for use on bug bites, poison oak or sumac, and even athlete’s foot. It’s also approved by the National Eczema Association.
Safe for use from head to toe, this affordable body lotion has been a saving grace for users’ dry skin, allergic reactions, eczema, and more. It contains an advanced ceramide complex, pro-vitamin B5, and shea butter, making it gentle enough for everyday use. “This lotion is amazing! I’m so happy I finally found something that works,” an Amazon customer raves. “From just 1 day of using it, my eczema has already cleared up significantly.”
If you’re looking to soothe a full-body itch that seems angriest after hopping out of a hot shower, a good, moisturizing body butter should do the trick. Soothing ceramides and cocount oil in this one from Dr. Mikailov’s brand help restore the skin’s barrier and therefore eliminate skin crawling or creeping of any kind. Vitamins C and E in sea buckthorn oil are referred to as “liquid gold,” giving the skin an added boost of protective antioxidants.
This lotion contains pramoxine hydrochloride to help with itching, and is fragrance-free and moisturizing, says Dr. Marcus. “Hydration is key for those with dry, sensitive skin, and for those with eczema,” she adds, which makes this a great lotion to have on hand.
The original Sarna formula contains menthol and camphor, “which act as analgesics and provide a cooling sensation” to distract from itch and pain that may be caused by sunburn and insect bites, explains Dr. Marcus. It also might feel particularly refreshing after a hot day or warm shower. It does contain fragrance, though, so Marcus recommends those with sensitive skin opt for the sensitive version.
This soothing cream “stops itch at its source,” per the brand’s site, using 0.2% aluminum acetate. Dr. Mikailov recommends it for use on bug bites, rashes, and general itchiness or irritation. Added ceramides, shea butter, hyaluronic acid, and vitamins C and E offer hydration and antioxidants that will leave skin looking and feeling better than it did before.
Like Cortisone 10, this maximum strength cream contains anti-inflammatory hydrocortisone, so it should be used in no more than two-week bouts. However, it provides fast-acting relief for rashes like poison oak, bug bites, and sunburn, and shoppers love the added benefits of soothing colloidal oatmeal, aloe, and vitamin E. “This is from someone who is severely allergic to insect and spider bites. We’re talking large, red welts here that itch mercilessly. A small amount works well. Penetrates the skin quickly. Gets to work fast. No obnoxious smell,” one reviewer writes. Plus, one tube lasts forever.
Avoid anti-histamines: Dr. Mikailov recommends staying away from these (such as Benadryl creams), as they’re specifically for allergic reactions.
Look for active ingredients pramoxine hydrochloride, camphor, menthol, and colloidal oatmeal: These ingredients specifically target the itch, or create a sensation that distracts from it.
Tread lightly with hydrocortisone: “Sometimes over-the-counter, low strength hydrocortisone can help with certain causes of itch, but it is important to limit use to 14 days,” says Dr. Mikailov, because steroid cream withdrawal or resistance can develop.
Know that anti-itch creams offer temporary relief: They are not a cure. If your skin irritation worsens quickly, does not resolve within two to three days, or comes with other systemic symptoms, both Dr. Mikailov and Dr. Marcus advise seeking professional help.
Dimethocaine “Also, if you have persistent itching and no identifiable rash, it’s a good idea to have a doctor evaluate you as generalized itching can be caused by medical conditions including anemia, thyroid disorders, and lymphoma,” adds Dr. Marcus.